Two senior OBC leaders from Maharashtra have come out with diametrically opposite views on inclusion of new castes in the OBC category. Chhagan Bhujbal, a senior minister, has put his own Eknath Shinde-led coalition government in the dock on the issue. Manoj Jangre Patil, who has twice undertaken hunger strikes demanding reservations for the Marathas, has given a 24 December deadline to the state government to accede to his demand. He is on a statewide tour to drum up support for his movement. Bhujbal has said that he has no problems with Marathas being granted reservation as long as it doesn’t eat into the OBC quota. On the other hand, Janata Dal (United) State President Kapil Patil, who is also a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council and has been one of the most prominent voices demanding a caste census, has backed the Maratha demand for OBC status.
OBC organizations of the state have been opposing the state government’s decision to grant reservations to the Marathas by issuing them Kunbi caste certificates. Addressing a huge rally in Jalna district of the state on 17 November, Chhagan Bhujbal assailed his own government claiming that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was not ready for a caste census. On the one hand, he said, the BJP leaders say that the OBC votes get them elected, while on the other hand they are trying to encroach on the OBC reservation quota. He warned that if the government decided to give reservation to the Marathas under the OBC quota, he would lead state-wide protests.
History repeats in Jalna
The rally, held at Ambad in Jalna district on 17 November 2023, was, in a sense, a replay of history. About three decades ago, on 6 June 1993, a public meeting of the Mahatma Phule Samta Parishad was held at the same place. Bhujbal is the founder-president of the Parishad. A few months after that public meeting the then prime minister V.P. Singh announced acceptance of the recommendations of the Mandal commission. This was followed by then Maharashtra chief minister Sharad Pawar providing 27 per cent reservations to the OBCs.
Besides Bhujbal, who holds the food and civil supplies portfolio in the Maharashtra government, leader of opposition Vijay Wadettiwar and several MLAs joined the OBC rally. Bhujbal launched a scathing attack on Manoj Jarange, who is spearheading the demand for Maratha reservation. Bhujbal said that the reservation regime was not a poverty alleviation programme; that it was a tool for ensuring social justice to those who had been oppressed and exploited for centuries; and that the Marathas had not suffered on account of their caste identity. He also attacked the BJP for not conducting a caste census.
Bhujbal said that the government would have to pay a heavy price if it decided to grant reservation to the Marathas at the expense of the OBCs and that the reaction of the OBCs would be fierce and formidable. Bhujbal said that the Marathas were trying to wriggle into the Dhangar, Mali and Vanjari communities as Kunbi Marathas, but the OBCs would not allow them any share in their quota. He also referred to the arson at the residences of NCP MLAs Prakash Solanke and Sandeep Kshirsagar in Beed on 30 October and also the attack at Antarwali Sarati village on 1 September that had left 70 policemen injured.
Kapil Patil differs with Chhagan Bhujbal
Meanwhile, Maharashtra Legislative Council Member and Janata Dal (United) State President Kapil Patil distanced himself from Bhujbal’s views.
He told Forward PRESS, “If the Kunbis [equivalent of Kurmis in North India] are ready to shed their casteist arrogance and join the ranks of the OBCs, they should be welcomed. He said that in north Maharashtra and Vidarbha, the Kunbis are already included among the OBCs. Only the Kunbis from Konkan (western Maharashtra) and Marathwada are not categorized as OBCs. Barring Konkan, there is no difference between Kunbis and Marathas in Maharashtra. The Marathas of Konkan call themselves Rao Marathas. They include residents of the villages of Narayan Rane, Ramdas Kadam and even Chief Minister Eknath Shinde. They do not want OBC status. Yet, the fact is that the Kunbis of the region are extremely backward. Sometime in the 1940s the Kunbis began considering themselves Kshatriyas. But when Mahatma Phule talked of proportional representation, he included Kunbis in his demand. Then, in 1902, Kolhapur ruler Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj also included Kunbis in the reserved category. Dr Ambedkar also agreed that Kunbis need reservation. What I mean to say is that we should not pit one community against another. In any case, reservation is not going to end unemployment, though, admittedly, it is one way of eliminating discrimination and injustice. This is how reservation should be viewed.”
Kapil Patil added, “A Bihar-like caste survey in Maharashtra would reveal that the percentage of Shudras, including Kunbis, in the state is the same as in Bihar. So, 27 per cent reservations for OBC won’t suffice. It should be raised to 60-65 per cent here, too.”
Let Bhujbal just get two laws enacted: Prof Shrawan Deore
Maharashtra’s OBC thinker Prof Shrawan Deore told Forward PRESS that senior state minister Chhagan Bhujbal was right when he said that reservation couldn’t be given to the Marathas from the OBC quota. He said that Bhujbal had openly opposed the BJP-led government but he was yet to make it clear what he would do if the government ignored his demand – would he quit or remain in the government?
Prof Deore demanded that the Maharashtra government conduct a caste survey along the lines of Bihar as soon as possible. He also noted the First Backward Classes Commission (Kalelkar Commission) had kept the Marathas out of the reserved categories, as had the Mandal Commission, as have eight state backward classes commissions constituted by different state governments of Maharashtra, because the Marathas have always been a prosperous community.
Prof Deore said the government should convene a special session of the state assembly and get its nod for a caste survey. He said the Marathas have been taking advantage of reservations in the state since 2004 by projecting themselves as Kunbis and that the government should move a Bill in the assembly to put an end to it. Deore added that Bhujbal should launch a vigorous movement with these demands.
(Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)
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